Teenage Panzerkorps (DER Tpk) Harmful Emotions

[Siltbreeze; 2007]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: slimed-up sub-basement D.I.Y. post-punk
Others: Wooden Shjips, The Fall, Slugfuckers, Mars

The American music underground has no beginning or end. It is seemingly infinite. Every time music bores me, I remind myself of this fact. In communities across the country, niches of like-minded musicians are making great, weird music. Each niche creates aesthetically similar, different-sounding music, and for many, the artists that exist on the fringe of each niche usually create more interesting art. Cali’s Jewelled Antler Collective is a prime example. The collective, founded by Loren Chasse and Glenn Donaldson, is synonymous with organic drone and backwoods folk. Somehow, the lo-fi, postmodern punks in Der Teenage Panzerkorps (a.k.a. Der TPK) wormed their way into the collective, releasing a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it edition EP through Pink Skulls, a well-known JAC imprint.

Although Der TPK exhibit the same independent creative spirit that drives the collective, their music exists on a dissimilar plane. Harmful Emotions, the group’s second full-length, contains a few snippets of tweaked instrumentals, but its music is far from organic drones. Der TPK play a breed of basement rock indebted to ’70s DIY post-punk forefathers like The Slugfuckers and skuzzy first-wave no-wavers. Like Ariel Pink, they create songs that resonate with a sense of déjà vu, but Der TPK’s source material is obscure. In fact, they construct their songs with such a unique nostalgic layout that each song sounds like an arty-fact that belongs on a Hyped 2 Death comp or crate-digger no-wave comp.

Sub-standard production, even for Siltbreeze, gets the record off to a slow start. The band hides vocals on “Theme Control,” “Nameless Diseases,” and “Headless Voice” under guitars, organ drone, and tape hiss. This would be fine if an interesting melody developed and the vocal rhythm accentuated it, but the unintelligible singing just adds to the tunes’ ill-conceived sloppiness. “Theme Control” showcases fast, fuzzy punk rock and an underbelly of ringing feedback, but no hook to round out the piece. “Nameless Disease” is the most blatant offender, spending most of its three-minute running time building up a great droning organ/guitar riff that leads to absolutely nowhere. Near the tune’s end, some British yelling peaks through the junk heap and turns out to be even less interesting than the melody.

Soon enough, though, Der TPK pick up the slack and reveal a gem of a DIY post-punk album underneath the layer of grime. Vocals remain buried, but work as an instrument rather than a poetry box. The remainder of the LP is one hell of a head scratchin’ ride, never cluing the passenger into the contours of its journey. No two tunes sound alike, and almost all of them sound like a late-’70s post-punk band’s long-lost demos. “The Medieval” builds a creepy melody with threatening guitars, castle-dwelling organs, and haunting vocals. The rancorous stop-gap guitars on “Hooks on the Sun” sound like a bizarre cross breed of skuzzy rockabilly and no-wave.

When the "Eastern-flavored" guitar of ”Creepy Books” slinks out of the speaker, only to be spliced with an angular street-wise guitar line, the band sounds as if it evolved in a mere 25 minutes. The tune bobs along with a repetitious and inventive melody ripped out of Grotesque-era Fall fakebook. The guitar line in “Thy Depth!” even references one of the first Siltbreeze releases, The Dead C’s “Helen Said This” 12-inch. The anti-climatic “Brown Sun (Pt. 2)” ends the album with its glimpse toward the future and the past, sounding like a Billy Childish-fronted, garage rock-steeped revision of the mischievous Slugfuckers singles.

Repeated and attentive listening reveals why The Jewelled Antler Collective drafted this band into its ranks. Their simplest, poorest recorded songs turn the basic punk-rock structure into a drone. By reducing punk rock to its bare essentials, both structurally and audibly, and obeying the Mark E. Smith laws of repetition, they are able to transcend punk’s limitations. The poor recording quality adds a meditative feel to these drones. Hell, “Governing Christians” even ends with a minute of feedback drone that blends seamlessly with the lo-fi hiss of the verse-chorus-verse tune. Therein lies DER TPK’s beauty and blunder: They’re utterly engrossing, but too smart for their own good. Like albums by their one-time label peers in Thuja, Harmful Emotions requires patience and focus for a fully realized listening experience.

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